24 October 2017 Reader: Edu Reform, Edu Equity, Technology

Memory Machines and Collective Memory: How We Remember the History of the Future of Technological Change, Audrey Watters

There are powerful narratives being told about the future, insisting we are at a moment of extraordinary technological change. That change, according to these tales, is happening faster than ever before. It is creating an unprecedented explosion in the production of information. New information technologies — so we’re told — must therefore change how we learn: change what we need to know, how we know, how we create knowledge. Because of the pace of change and the scale of change and the locus of change — again, so we’re told — our institutions, our public institutions, can no longer keep up. These institutions will soon be outmoded, irrelevant. So we’re told.

These are powerful narratives, as I said, but they are not necessarily true. And even if they are partially true, we are not required to respond the way those in power or in the technology industry would like us to.

Teacher diversity gaps and their evolution under Trump, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero

The beginning of a new school year often prompts renewed interest in the diversity of the public teacher workforce, and this year is no different. Minority teachers count for less than 20 percent of all public school teachers, while minority students account for roughly half of all students. And, troublingly, this trend is not likely to reverse anytime soon, based on our report on the topic last year.

There are myriad factors that appear to contribute to the systemic underrepresentation of minority teachers, as well as a variety of proposed solutions to reduce these gaps. Experimenting with these types of policies should be worth it, as the weight of research evidence shows that disadvantaged students stand to benefit most from a more diverse workforce.

7 findings that illustrate racial disparities in education, Liz Sablich

[W]e’ve put together a list of seven findings about racial disparities in education that scholars and contributors at the Brookings Institution have highlighted over the past year.

NEPC Review: Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools (CREDO, August 2017), Matthew Gaertner and Ben Kirshner

This report provides an extensive analysis based on the most comprehensive dataset ever assembled for school closure research, including 1,522 low-performing schools that were closed across 26 states between 2006 and 2013. The report finds that even when holding constant academic performance, schools were more likely to be closed if they enrolled higher proportions of minority and low-income students. It also finds test score declines, relative to the comparison group, for two groups of students displaced by closures: those who transferred to schools with a prior record of relatively lower test-score performance and those who transferred to schools with equivalent past test-score performance. The slightly less than half of students who transferred to higher performing schools showed academic improvement relative to their matched peers. In general, although the reviewers found this to be a careful and rigorous study, they see a few missed opportunities. First, the report’s focus on some tenuous analyses (involving pre-closure transfers) obscures its most important findings – disproportionality in school closures and inadequate numbers of higher quality receiving schools, leading to performance declines for most. Second, the reviewers are concerned about statistical modeling choices and matching challenges that may threaten the validity of subgroup analyses (charter school students). Finally, the reviewers would have liked to see the report acknowledge the inescapable moral dimensions of school closure: The communities most likely to be negatively affected are unlikely to have participated in closure decisions.

Neglecting Democracy in Education Policy: A-F School Report Card Accountability Systems, Kevin Murray & Kenneth R. Howe

Sixteen states have adopted school report card accountability systems that assign A-F letter grades to schools. Other states are now engaged in deliberation about whether they, too, should adopt such systems. This paper examines A-F accountability systems with respect to three kinds of validity. First, it examines whether or not these accountability systems are valid as a measure, that is, do these systems validly measure school quality? Second, it examines whether or not they are valid as a policy instrument. or, how far do A-F accountability systems fulfill the stated aims of their proponents—empowering parents, providing “simple” and “common sense” measures of educational quality, and so on? Finally, it examines whether or not A-F systems are valid as a democratic framework:, how well do these systems align with the broader goals of educating students for democratic citizenship and of incorporating parents and community members in democratic deliberation about policies for their public schools? The paper concludes that A-F accountability systems are invalid along each of these lines, and provides recommendations for democratically developing and implementing criteria for school assessment.

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Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels

As the academic year began at my university, I was confronted with how the very worst of K-12 public education reform continues to creep upward, engulfing higher education.

In this case, growth mindset was central to the faculty keynote address, prompting me to resist an outburst in front of my colleagues. I did, however, weigh in on social media, including Facebook—where a few faculty were intrigued and reached out by email.

Last week, then, we held a faculty discussion on growth mindset, and of the three panelist, I was the only one calling for at least a skeptical view if not an outright rejection of the concept (along with grit, which was mentioned in the keynote but not central to the presentation).

For simplicity and clarity, I want to outline here briefly (since I have written extensively about both growth mindset and grit; see the Categories here on the blog) why I call for skepticism and even rejecting the practices associated with the terms.

At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals—assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.

As a colleague noted during comments after the keynote, this is a “very American” way of thinking; and I would add, a flawed view of the relationship between human behavior and social forces.

Here, I recommend Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, and argue that social forces are primary to human behaviors. I also call into question the rush to characterize what is success and failure—since a tremendous amount of both outcomes are more strongly correlated to a person’s environment of birth than any accomplishments by the person.

At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level—both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).

Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.

Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.

The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.

K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students, deficits linked to race and social class.

All three levels, then, are born in, protected by, and prone to perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.

Instead I endorsed what Paul Gorski argues about equity literacy principles:

Equity literate educators recognize and draw upon the resiliencies and other funds of knowledge accumulated by poor and working class communities, reject deficit views that focus on fixing marginalized students rather than fixing the conditions that marginalize students, and understand the structural barriers that cheat some people out of the opportunities enjoyed by other people.

 

Pre-Service Teacher Education vs. the World

I cannot promise below anything as exciting as battling a potential new partner’s seven evil exes, but I do want to wade into an important but too often overlooked aspect of how we assign power and blame to teacher impact of student achievement.

In two recent posts, I have confronted teacher blaming as well as teacher buy-in because far too many people simultaneously overstate teacher impact on student outcomes while ignoring that teachers in the U.S. have very little professional autonomy.

First, and I will not belabor this point, teacher quality contributes to only about 10-15% of measurable student achievement, dwarfed by out-of-school factors accounting for about 60% or more.

Yet, what is also important to emphasize is that teacher practices in public schools are highly regulated, increasingly so over the past thirty years of accountability driven by standards and high-stakes testing.

Teacher professional autonomy has been nearly absent in the U.S. over the last century-plus in the U.S.—likely since it is seen as a woman’s profession—but current in-service teachers will attest that their practices are significantly restrained by state mandates and schools polices anchored to state standards and a wide assortment of high-stakes tests (from state accountability to the SAT/ACT and Advanced Placement as well as International Baccalaureate).

Part of the reason I resist the inherent teacher-blame in pieces such as Goldstein’s on how writing is taught rests on my own experiences as a teacher educator of English teachers for 15 years.

My journey to teacher education began as adjunct teaching in local colleges throughout the 1990s, culminating with two wonderful years as the co-lead instruction in the Spartanburg Writing Project (SWP).

That fist summer institute of SWP introduced me to Dawn Mitchell as well as how common her struggle is among in-service teachers across the U.S.

While we at SWP worked diligently to teach our participants best practice in teaching writing, they—as did Dawn—routinely met resistance in their real-world schools and classrooms.

Principals and parents balked repeatedly at changed practices, even as those changes move from unwarranted to warranted instruction.

Once I became a full-time teacher educator, I had to anticipate a recurring refrain from the wonderful young people I was helping move into the field of teaching English; they nearly all said they valued what I had taught them about best practices in teaching reading and writing, but they were not able to implement most of those practices once they secured a job teaching.

So here is the dirty little secret of education blame in the U.S.: we simultaneously want to hold teachers accountable for student achievement even though we know teacher quality is a small percentage of those measurable outcomes and even though teachers are often implementing practices that are not supported by research but by mandate.

If we return to the Goldstein article and consider why student writing continues to fall short of our expectations, we must accept that how we measure student writing proficiency significantly shades what we believe about student proficiency and that teachers are mostly practicing in their classes what they are required to do (teach to standards, teach to tests) even when those mandates conflict significantly with what we know is best practice in fostering young students as writers.

Ultimately, there is a type of education reform that has never truly been implemented—seeking ways to increase teacher professional autonomy.

As someone with almost two decades as a public school English teacher and now 15 years as a college professor, I can attest that professional autonomy is one of the most powerful aspects of university teaching; we are hired for our expertise and then given the respect we deserve for behaving as professionals in our classrooms.

There is much about teacher certification as well as in-service teaching that deserves attention and reform, but currently, the discourse around teacher blame and why students (and schools) fail completely ignores the key cause behind all of this discord: accountability driven by standards and high-stakes tests, which is all folded into federal and state legislation.

Both teacher education and in-service teacher practices would be exponentially improved by teacher educator and teacher autonomy—and then we would find a much more valid context for holding both accountable.


See Also

Many Teachers Have ‘No Say’ in Decisions About Their Own PD, Survey Finds

UofA + KIPP = Lies: More Rhetoric in the Absence of Evidence

There is a disturbing but predictable formula when you combine the University of Arkansas (and dig a bit to the Walton money funding the Orwellian-named Department of Education Reform) and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter chain that results in, at best, careless misinformation or, at worst, brazen deception.

Let’s start at the ironic end to a 2 August 2017 press release on the relationship between UofA and KIPP:

“KIPP helped me to not only be adaptable, but to stay motivated,” she said. “I think an excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ best describes my KIPP experience,” Walton said. ” ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.'”

The irony is that the sentiment ascribed here to Frost’s poem is a common misreading that parallels how KIPP and charter advocates impose their ideology onto what we know about KIPP/charter schools in the service of the brand and not the students (noting here how this press release allows the former KIPP student* to do all the heavy lifting).

Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” in fact, is illustrative here, but not in the way intended.

Misreading and mis-teaching this iconic poem fail in one extremely important way: ignoring that the speaker in Frost’s poem repeatedly notes that the two roads are the same: “as just as fair,” “Had worn them really about the same,” and “And both that morning equally lay.”

The poem actually stresses that making choices is mostly unavoidable and certainly builds everyone’s fate, but the poem is also a satire about regretting choices, as Orr explains:

Frost had been inspired to write the poem by Thomas’s habit of regretting whatever path the pair took during their long walks in the countryside—an impulse that Frost equated with the romantic predisposi­tion for “crying over what might have been.” Frost, Thompson writes, believed that his friend “would take the poem as a gen­tle joke and would protest, ‘Stop teasing me.’” 

Therefore, Frost’s much mangled poem offers us two lessons missed by the UofA/KIPP agenda: (1) there is almost no difference between or among types of schools (charter v. public or private v. public), and (2) the claims made by KIPP and other charter advocates are far more complex than they seem on the surface (as is the poem).

The grand claims of KIPP have now drifted toward how well students attend and graduate college, but KIPP has done as all the other charter and choice advocates have by constantly changing what they claim their form of education reform achieves.

Press release rhetoric falls apart, however, once the claims are carefully examined. Here are just a few examples of KIPP and charter exaggeration and deception:

KIPP is correct that schools that only count students who complete 12th grade will have inflated scores compared to KIPP that counts students who complete 8th grade.  But what KIPP doesn’t mention is that the fairest way to make a comparison to the 9% number is to start counting at 5th grade.  KIPP actually has a pretty big attrition between 5th and 8th grade so the true ‘gold standard’ is really not used by anyone.  All the numbers are inflated.  KIPPs might be inflated less than the others, but it still is so they can whine that the others are cheating worse than they are on this statistic, but they should admit that they are doing it too, though to a lesser degree.

This most recent press release from UofA/KIPP is yet another example of how charter advocacy and the entire education reform agenda are awash in misinformation, steering the rampant misreading of these reforms by politicians and the public.

I fear that like the satirized speaker in Frost’s poem, “I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence”: When you see “miracle” claims that are too good to be true, well, they are not true.

Shame on UofA and KIPP for continuing to traffic in such lies.


* NOTE: Certainly, two important points must be made about this student’s experience: (1) Everyone can fairly celebrate her success and pride in that success, while (2) an anecdote based on one person’s experience cannot prove or disprove any sort of generalizations. Thus, this student ascribing her success to KIPP in no way makes that true, even though she genuinely feels that way.

For Further Reading

Innovative Deception: The Charter Scam Chronicles Continue

Hiding Behind Rhetoric in the Absence of Evidence

Buying the Academy, Good-Bye Scholarship

On Misreading: The Critical Need to Step Back and See Again

You’re Probably Misreading Robert Frost’s Most Famous Poem, David Orr

Innovative Deception: The Charter Scam Chronicles Continue

The school choice movement has its roots in mid-twentieth century, and was bolstered by some ugly truths about racism in the U.S. during the Civil Rights movement and public school integration.

While school choice advocacy has maintained some foundational catch phrases such as “innovation” and relied on appeals to uncritical faith in market forces over “the damned government,” school choice has also maintained two key patterns: (1) promises associated with school choice advocacy have mostly failed, and thus, (2) “choice” has morphed repeatedly into new versions to stay ahead of all the bad news about outcomes falling short of those promises.

The last decade, however, has revealed a school choice gold mine in the charter school movement that appears to blend the public’s support for public schools with the allure of parental choice.

However, on balance, charter school advocacy has proven to be mostly rhetoric and absent evidence in ways similar to the larger school choice movement.

Public and charter schools, for example, are currently plagued with rising segregation, and both embrace policies that can fairly be labeled racist and classist—leading the NAACP to maintain a strongly skeptical position about the credibility of charter schools.

And when charter schools appear to succeed where public schools do not, a careful analysis nearly always reveals that what is too good to be true is, in fact, not true.

School choice innovation, including charter school innovation, actually has little to do with education and more to do with keeping ahead of the evidence in order to maintain political and public support for finding yourself in a hole and continuing to dig.

For a glimpse into how the charter movement seeks mostly to keep itself afloat, often at the expense of children and their families, consider Paul Bowers’s Erskine College’s new role as charter school gatekeeper could change landscape of public education.

Bowers hits a key point in the following:

Across the U.S., the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has been sounding the alarm about a trend it calls “authorizer shopping,” which it calls “a growing threat to overall charter school quality.”

“Authorizer shopping happens when a charter school chooses an initial authorizer or changes authorizers specifically to avoid accountability,” the group said in a 2016 report. “A low-performing school may shop for a new authorizer to avoid closure, or reopen under a new authorizer after closure.”

Also important to highlight is, as Bowers notes, how this new phase of charter expansion linked to less or no accountability is appealing to the least effective forms of charter schools:

Two of the first schools to express an interest in the new public charter school sponsor, the Charter Institute at Erskine College, are the S.C. Virtual Charter School and Cyber Academy of South Carolina. The two schools enrolled more than 4,000 students combined in kindergarten through 12th grade last school year.

The hard truths about educating children in a free society in order to create a more perfect union, to reach and sustain an equitable democracy, are that public education has mostly failed the children who need it most because the U.S. is plagued by political cowardice and that schemes labeled “education reform” are mostly even worse alternatives (including school choice and charter schools) to the mismanaged public system.

Near the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. called for addressing poverty directly and thus eradicate related social inequities and empower public institutions:

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income. …

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

King’s plea has been repeatedly justified since the claims that education is the great equalizer never materializes. For example, in Equal Pay Day for African-American Women, By the Numbers Emily Crockett confronts:

African-American women only earn 64 cents to every dollar earned by non-Hispanic white men, according to the NWLC analysis; the figure for women overall is 77 cents. That’s based on the average earnings of female and male full-time, year-round workers taken from Census data.

The pay gap for Black women varies based on age and industry. Older Black women have it the hardest—the pay gap is only 82 cents on the dollar for 15-year-old to 24-year-old Black women compared to white men, but the gap widens to 67 cents and 59 cents, respectively, for Black women ages 25-to-44 and 45-to-64.

As for industries, Black women working as physicians and surgeons—a high-wage and male-dominated occupation—make only 52 cents for every dollar paid to their white male counterparts. Black women fared slightly better in lower-paid occupations, making 86 cents on the dollar in male-dominated, mid-wage construction industries and 85 cents on the dollar working as low-wage, mostly female personal care aides. …

The fact that Black women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs doesn’t help, the analysis said. Black women make up 14 percent of low-wage workers and 6 percent of the overall workforce.

Education levels don’t make much of an impact on the high wage gap between Black women and non-Hispanic white men. While more education corresponds with higher wages for both Black women and white men, Black women still make between 61 and 66 cents on the dollar compared to their counterparts at every education level [emphasis added]. African-American women have to have at least a Bachelor’s degree to make as much as white men who didn’t finish college.

This equity gap along race and gender lines is a lingering and powerful fact in the U.S.

Education reform, then, especially under the guise of school choice/charter schools, is once again failing to address directly the root causes of why we believe public education needs reform in the first place.

The only real innovation among the charter school advocates is how many ways they can avoid the hard truths about reforming schools and the impotence of education to overcome social inequity and injustice.

Please Support #FixInjusticeNotKids

Paul Gorski, currently preparing a revised edition of Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap, has initiated #FixInjusticeNotKids on social media, a hashtag that captures perfectly the primary fracture between mainstream education reformers and social justice education reformers.

As some examples, here are Tweets of mine addressing this powerful message:

Many elements of mainstream reform embrace a deficit view of children and students, specifically black and brown students as well as students living in poverty. This ideology blames the victims of social inequity, racism, classism, and sexism; it creates a laser focus on the individual and blinds us to systemic injustice.

Support #FixInjusticeNotKids in word and action to seek ways to reject deficit ideology and to end inequity and injustice so that the potential of all children can be achieved among a people who genuinely believe all children matter,